Michael Dukakis

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Michael Stanley Dukakis (born November 3, 1933) is a Greek-American Democratic politician, former Governor of Massachusetts, and a former presidential candidate, being the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. He was born to Greek-immigrant parents in Brookline, Massachusetts and was the longest serving governor in Massachusetts' history.

Early career

Dukakis' Greek immigrant mother, Euterpe, was a Massachusetts schoolteacher. She lost not only her native Greek accent, but her New England accent as well because she would not accept anything that would hinder her teaching ability. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1955, served in the U.S. Army and then received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1960.

Massachusetts governor

After serving for a time in the Massachusetts legislature, Dukakis was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1974, defeating the incumbent Republican Francis W. Sargent during a period of fiscal crisis. Dukakis won in part by pledging not to increase the state's sales tax to balance the state budget, but did so soon after taking office. He gained some notoriety as the only person in the state government who went to work during the great Blizzard of 1978. During the storm, he went into local TV studios in a sweater to announce emergency bulletins. Dukakis is also remembered for his 1977 exoneration of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists whose trial sparked protests around the world, and who were electrocuted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927.

However this performance did not prove enough to offset a backlash against the state's high sales and property tax rates, which turned out to be the predominant issue in the 1978 gubernatorial campaign. Dukakis lost his re-election bid to Edward J. King in the Democratic primary, as King rode the wave against high property taxes along with the passing of a binding petition on the state ballot that limited property tax rates to 2 1/2% of the property valuation. Dukakis defeated King four years later in a re-match in the Democratic primary, and easily defeated his Republican opponent in the November election. Future Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was elected Lieutenant Governor on the same ballot with Dukakis, and served in the Dukakis administration from 1983 to 1985.

Dukakis served as Governor again from 1983 until 1991 (winning re-election in 1986 with more than 60 percent of the vote), during which time he presided over a high-tech boom and a period of prosperity in Massachusetts. The National Governors Association voted Dukakis the most effective governor in 1986. Residents of the city of Boston and its surrounding areas remember him for the improvements he made to Boston's mass transit system, especially major renovations to the city's trains and buses. He was known as the only governor who rode the subway to the state capitol every day.

Presidential candidate

Using the phenomenon termed the "Massachusetts Miracle" to promote his campaign, Dukakis sought the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States in the 1988 elections, prevailing over a primary field which included Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart and Al Gore, among others. Dukakis' success at the primary level has been largely attributed to John Sasso, his campaign manager. Sasso, however, was among two aides dismissed (Paul Tully was the other one) when a video showing plagiarism by rival candidate Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) was made public and an embarrassed Biden was forced to withdraw from the race. This situation got uglier when Tully implied that it was Dick Gephardt's campaign (as opposed to Dukakis' campaign) that actually passed along the damaging information on Biden.

Despite the claims that Dukakis always "turned the other cheek," he did run a particularly effective commercial against rival Dick Gephardt that featured a tumbler doing somersaults while the announcer said, "Dick Gephardt has been flip-flopping over the issues." Dukakis finished third in the Iowa caucuses and then became the first candidate to ever win a contested New Hampshire primary by more than ten points with Gephardt finishing second. Dukakis finished first in Minnesota and second in South Dakota before winning five states on March 8, 1988, the "Super Tuesday" primaries. As his competition continued to fade, Dukakis wound up with a seven-week stretch of one-on-one elections between himself and controversial civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Dukakis lost the Michigan caucus to Jackson but then prevailed by margins of two to one in Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and New Jersey, clinching the nomination on June 7, 1988.

During the general election campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, launched several attacks on Dukakis for his traditionally liberal positions on many issues. These included Dukakis's during the primary season that he was "a card-carrying member of" the American Civil Liberties Union, his veto of legislation requiring public school teachers to lead pupils in the Pledge of Allegiance, and his opposition to the resumption of capital punishment in the United States.

Dukakis had trouble with the personality that he projected to the voting public. His reserved and stoic nature was easily interpreted to be a lack of passion (which went against the ethnic stereotype of his Greek-American heritage). Dukakis was often referred to as "Zorba the Clerk." Nevertheless, Dukakis is considered to have done well in the first presidential debate with George Bush. In the second debate, Dukakis had been suffering from the flu and spent quite a bit of the day in bed. Still, his performance was poor and played to his reputation as being cold.

Election defeat

Dukakis' vice-presidential candidate was Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. The Dukakis/Bentsen ticket lost the election in an electoral college landslide, carrying only 10 states and the District of Columbia. Dukakis himself blames his defeat on the time he spent doing gubernatorial work in Massachusetts in the final weeks of the campaign, when many believed he should have been campaigning across the country. Many factors affect presidential elections. The Republicans benefitted from relative peace and prosperity in 1988. President Reagan was popular, and that popularity and the general good state of economy could not have hurt Bush at the polls. It would have been difficult--but not impossible--for any Democratic candidate to win in 1988. Had the economy been in recession, had major scandal rocked the Reagan White House, had the country been involved in another Vietnam War, Dukakis probably would have done much better. Often too much is made of a candidate's personality and likeability. In any case, Dukakis was articulate and intelligent--strengths that are sometimes not mentioned.

Despite Dukakis' loss, his performance was a marked improvement over the previous two Democratic efforts. Dukakis made some strong showings in rural states that typically vote Republican. It also solidified states like Rhode Island, Hawaii and Massachusetts as Blue States (although this term wasn't used at the time). He swept Iowa, winning it by ten points, an impressive feat for a state that previously voted Republican in the last five elections (and did not do so again until 2004). He got 43% of the vote in Kansas, a surprising showing in a state that typically votes in landslide numbers for Republicans. In another surprising showing, he received 47% in South Dakota. In Montana, Dukakis racked up a close 46% of the vote, in a state that typically goes Republican by twenty points (Reagan and George W. Bush in each of their elections are examples of this). Dukakis's relative strength in farm states was no doubt due to the serious economic difficulties these states faced in 1980s.

Although Dukakis cut into the Republican base in the midwest, he failed to dent the emerging GOP stronghold in the south. He lost most of the south in a landslide, with Bush's totals reaching around 60% in most states. Ironically, he was able to hold Bush to 55% in Texas, though this may have been due to Lloyd Bentsen's presence on the ticket. He also carried most of the southern-central parishes of Louisiana, despite losing the state. He held onto the border state of West Virginia, and he captured 48% of the vote in Missouri. He also carried 41% in Oklahoma, a bigger share than any Democrat since Carter and up to 2004.

In the Rust Belt, Dukakis also performed poorly. He lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey. He won his home state of Massachusetts by only eight points, perhaps due to the unrelenting criticism of his record as governor. Dukakis' performance in the northeast was also poor, losing Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine. The only other New England state he would win would be the traditionally liberal Rhode Island. Dukakis did have luck by winning the second largest electoral market New York, but by a slim margin. In the Pacific Northwest, Dukakis did much better, capturing both Washington and Oregon but losing California.

Dukakis won 41,809,476 votes in the popular vote. He also received 40% or more in the following states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont.

Overall, Dukakis won a higher percentage of the popular vote than either Walter Mondale in 1984 or Bill Clinton (in a three way race) in 1992.

Subsequent activities

His final two years as governor were marked by increased criticism of his policies and by significant tax increases to cover expanded government and the economic effects of the U.S. economy's "soft landing" at the end of the 1980s and the recession of 1990. He did not run for a fourth term in 1990; Boston University President John Silber won the Democratic nomination, and lost the general election to William Weld.

After the end of his term, he served on the board of directors for Amtrak and became a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Massachusetts and visiting professor of Public Policy at UCLA. He continued to talk in media interviews about the "negative" 1988 Bush campaign, beginning with his press conference on the day after the election, continuing throughout Bush's term, and even subsequent to Bush's defeat in the 1992 election.

Dukakis has recently developed a strong passion for grassroots campaigning and the appointment of precinct captains to coordinate local campaigning activities, two strategies he feels are essential for the Democratic Party to compete effectively in both local and national elections. He also has taken a strong role in advocating for effective public transportation and high speed rail as a solution to automobile congestion and the lack of space at airports.


  • Had Dukakis been elected, he would have been the second US President, after Andrew Jackson, with immigrant parents.
  • "I'm voting for Dukakis" is the first line of dialogue in the cult film Donnie Darko, and is often quoted by its fans. The phrase's use in the movie is a satirical take on Dukakis' unsuccessful campaign. (The movie takes place in 1988, but was filmed in 2001.)
  • He made a cameo appearance in the medical drama St. Elsewhere (Season 3, Episode 15, "Bye, George," January 9, 1985). He limps to the hospital desk and says that he has suffered a jogging injury, but Dr. Fiscus (played by Howie Mandel) refuses to believe that he is the governor of Massachusetts.
  • Michael Dukakis was the longest serving governor of Massachusetts, serving a total of twelve years in the governor's office. He was not the longest consecutive-serving governor, however (Levi Lincoln, Jr. served nine consecutive years from 1825-1834).
  • Famed composer John Williams wrote "Fanfare for Michael Dukakis" in 1988 at the request of Dukakis' father-in-law Harry Ellis Dickson. The piece was premiered under the baton of Dickson (then the Associated Conductor of the Boston Pops) at that year's Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
  • Dukakis used Neil Diamond's immigrant song "America" as a theme song for his 1988 campaign.

Personal info

Dukakis is married to Katherine D. (Kitty) Dukakis. Their children are John, Andrea and Kara. The Dukakises continue to reside in his boyhood home in Brookline, Massachusetts, but live in Los Angeles, California during the winter while Dukakis teaches at UCLA.

He is the cousin of actress Olympia Dukakis.

Further reading

  • David Nyhan. 1988. Duke: The Inside Story of a Political Phenomenon. ISBN 0446354546

External links

A portion of content for this article is credited to Wikipedia. Content under GNU Free Documentation License(GFDL)